Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Japanese food is usually associated with mediocre sushi. With the plain California roll and the super western cream cheese Philadelphia roll setting our standards, we are seldom presented with much more to this cuisine. Even without venturing into the realms of Izakaya (Japanese bar food) there are ways to elevate sushi beyond a cool slice of raw salmon over rice, cloned from one Mariko/Sakura/whoever to the next, none special, unique, memorable. At the foot of Carlton street, right where Cabbagetown begins, is a fish that leads to the way to something...different. It is a black fish, a silhouette, understated. With a pop of red, OMI makes its mark, and leaves it, too (243 Carlton St.). This is sushi done different. There are rolls, but you won't see either of the above mentioned on this menu. As well, items which are staples at any Japanese restaurant become elevated to surprising heights by the talent of the chefs at OMI...
One of the specialties of the house which you won't see enough of in Toronto is the option to have omakase. Compare omakase to the tasting menu at your favourite fine dining lounge or bistro. It's a taste of this, a bite of that. It's not like bento, which is just a medium portion of a couple things: this is a full array of delectable sushi, sashimi, and house favourites. The price is market (it's 70$ a head right now, but that will change with the season), but is only available for a party of 7 or more. Sadly I was just a lonely party of one! I will save my omakase dreams for another day.

A salt lover to the core, I've always been a great fan of miso soup. I love getting a bento box and slurping up the bowl of white miso broth, piping hot, rich with umami ( I used the word!For once it feels less snobby). OMI dishes up the classic with only a light spin, enough to make me tilt my head in amusement without being totally blown away. Miso soup is so simple that adding or modifying much means you're having a completely different appetizer very quickly. Here the broth was peppered with a few stalks of enoki mushroom, the citrus stalks playing with the very mild salt of OMI's broth. There was a curious flotilla of what I think was rice puffs, forming a layer over the soup. Served near boiling, as I like it. Simple and mellow.

Here must I profess a great and undying love, no, an ever growing love, or weeds from the sea. Sea weeds. Ever since I started perusing that massive superstore in little Ko9rea, I've been spoiled for choice. I like to nibble on salted, roasted nori, and will happily soak wakame in preference to chopping iceberg for salad. There are many, many varieties of seaweed, all with a unique taste, and generally bursting with vitamins. I love the flavor! Much for the same reason people enjoy oysters, seaweed taste wild, and like the water. It tastes fresh. This trio of salads comprised of two kinds of seaweed and one cabbage  leaf'd construction hit the spot. It's a great salad for this still-hot days. The seaweeds (one was certainly wakame, the other MAY have been arame, though it wasn't as black as I recall arame being) were moist, and slid down my throat like refreshing tentacles. Appealing, I know! They tasted basically the same, though the arame was milder tasting. Both had a hint of sesame, maybe from just the seeds, maybe from a drop of oil. The other salad was a super-fine julienne slaw of white and red cabbage, crisp as anything (daikon, also?). There was a simple and juicy dressing of lemon, and a sprig of carrot added just a tease of sweet. So finely crafted! I tried them all separate, and then messed together for a grand finale of flavor.

On to the rolls! A certain writer for the star has been posting to his blog about all this crab consumption, and I wanted in. I've been feeling the seafood lately, especially the crustacean kind. I am also growing more aware of how unfamiliar with the fast array of crabs I am! I've had tinned crab, fake crab, and disappointed, overcooked snow crab legs (they were not worth the fight to free the dry meat). Softies, come to me! This roll, with the rice on the outside and the crab snug in a wrap of nori, was delicious, but not the best dish to flex my taste buds with. Why? Bonito. LOTS of bonito! Like dandruff, but more appealing, the top of the nori was loaded in dry flakes of dehydrated tuna. And it was STRONG! The flavor of the roll wound up being mostly fishy, with a hint of green onion and mayo. It came served with zippy pickled ginger that skipped the pink dye, and surprisingly mild wasabi.

On the website, this is listed as a special for November. Is it possible OMI hasn't updated their specials in almost a year? I won't complain, so long as they keep this on when the menu does change! In a way this is not unlike a sushi inside-out roll- just substitute rice for stringy sweet potato (they must seriously love their mandoline here), flash fried around the tempura catfish until it's crispy AND chewy. That's right, both, the best of both worlds. The natural sugar of the sweet potato keeps it a little moist even after cooking. The log of four pieces sat in a little puddle of watered down tamari- let it sit long and it gets soggy. Each section was topped with something different, wasabi, roe, mayo, a mystery. I wish there had been a more substantial portion of fish under all that orange spud. I am happy that the fish was so fresh and meaty, though.

Dessert was a fun and weird delight! These fish-shaped ice creams (based on something called bungeoppang, wikipedia tells me) aren't made by OMI. They're a snack item, like a Klondike bar but from Korea (no, they aren't Japanese!). Learning that this is a cheap snack food (made by a company called binggrae) has changed my opinion of it a bit- not because I didn't like it. Actually, I enjoyed the thin wafer and soft serve, with the earthy and sweet red bean jelly layer. It wasn't fresh, didn't taste fresh, but I liked the novelty. What bothers me is knowing your can get this for $4 in a grocery store. Is a $5 surcharge a bit much, especially considering it wasn't even dressed up? For something processed and not fresh? I think so.
Omi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Hogtown Vegan

A while ago I got to check out Hot Beans, which is a burrito place down in Kensington Market. I was really impressed with the food and the painfully huge proportions. Those floury and dense burritos scored major points for their originality as well as their size. They are also a vegan joint, just like the recently opened Hogtown Vegan which has the same owners but lives in a completely different neighborhood (you can find it at 834 Bloor West). With fond memories of the good nosh at Hot Beans, I spent some time in the west end to try out the new restaurant, and see what the daring vegan chefs are up to. I will confess I was relieved that the portions were more manageable!

For once I took made the extra effort to sample this restaurant in two trips, really wanting to get a good feel for what they have to offer. The first time I went with the lovely Sabrina Scott, a fellow illustrator and entrepreneur- and a vegan, so I could get a proper perspective of how The Hogtown Vegan measures for someone who lives on the diet. It was pretty good to talk shop over cold ice tea, and hot lunch!

In case you've been sleeping in a cave this last year, Toronto is experiencing a comfort food revival. Since many of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the city follow a stance that puts healthy food hand-in-hand with their elected restriction on ingredients, so the movement hasn't been reflected by card holders of the Toronto Vegetarian Association. While every cafe and restaurant with an ear to trends started boiling up batches of macaroni sauced in bechamel, baked in cheddar, drenched in Mornay, vegetarian restaurants have kept to their soba noodles (a stereotype as unfortunate as it is true). And along came The Hogtown Vegan.... their slogan even boasts 'Vegan Comfort Food in the Heart of Downtown!'. For Sabrina, it was a treat... Mac 'n' cheese? Oh yes. I've never given faux-cheese much of a chance. When I make vegan dishes at home, I just make food that doesn't need those ingredients, so I'm not making substitutions. I found the sauce on this mac and cheese a little on the wet side, but it still clung to the noodles valiantly. The taste was salty and a bit floury. Even though it did taste like cheese, it was a very mild taste, and the noodles reigned supreme in the dish. I know there was no butter used to make the pasta, but wow, the flavour reminded me of butter! What's nice about this mac is that even though it hits that lovely comfort food carb craving, it isn't as bloating as real-cheese mac. Pretty good!

On this first visit, I saw one thing on the menu and HAD to order it. It was after reading a recipe from le sauce that I became a bit obsessed with trying the wonder of pulled jackfruit. I haven't had time to try the recipe at home...and Hogtown Vegan has a version of jackfruit pulled pork! And...they were sold out, two hours after opening! Sadness filled me! Fortunately so did this chick pea salad sandwich, once I chose it to plug my saddened stomach. Sad no longer! There was so much from texture to taste that reminded me of a creamy summer potato salad, I momentarily wondered what I was eating. With tiny flecks of dill pickle, and fresh dashes of the same herb, the naturally creamy-when-creamed texture of the chick peas went a long way to completely what I'm sure was an unintentional illusion. Under a bed of a sprouts was a hint of mustard. The sunflower bread was very intriguing! It was like two robust, orange coloured pancakes instead of sliced bread, and I really enjoyed the novelty of the texture.
All sandwiches come with a choice of fries, collard greens or salad, but I really wanted to split. That costs an extra 2$, but for once I found the surcharge worth it. There was so much good food. Both the oily squigle fries with their crispy ends and the smooth, garlicky collards were super satisfying.

Drink selection leaves something to be desired! There's no liquor license in effect at The HTV, and what was available was a mix of homemade (like this tea, which was like mildly tea-flavoured, tart sugar water- good, if you don't like strong tea), and some bottled stuff, like lemonade. It would be great if they expand to include some alcoholic beverages, or fresh squeezed juice.
Visit number two debuted with something familiar to anyone whose ever made that first dip into non-meat waters: a veggie patty. These mini patties were of the common soy blend variety, brown and spongy in texture, with a flavour all their own. It is the kind of soy patty you can get at the local supermarket, with nothing to make it stand out as particularly noteworthy. The presentation made this more exciting, though! The biscuits, ordered by my guest Bentley, were fluffy and fell square between sweet scone and savoury biscuit. They also sparked a debate about the benefits and downfalls of Bisquick. I'm am a huge proponent of biscuits made from scratch, and I like them to be super fluffy and dry, with a light taste of soda- no sweetness at all! Like I said, the ones at Hogtown have a little sweetness. That is my bias, though, since my mother would bake amazing biscuits for us weekly.
The ceasar salad tasted exactly how you would want it to, the sauce tasting like nothing out of the ordinary. It was a delicious treat for a vegan, avoiding both dairy and anchovy! I was most impressed by the 'gravy', though. Not only was it studded with tiny peas, but it tasted like wholesome meat gravy made from the drippings at the bottom of a roast. And yet, vegan! So inventive and well crafted.

Guess what I tried to order a second time! The pulled jackfruit sandwich. Guess what they were out of! A! Second! Time! I was pretty disappointed. Here is an item that is clearly a major hit- it's probably time to start making bigger batches, guys. Maybe enough to last at least an hour or two after opening? Sigh. I turned my eyes instead to a most intriguing item: Reuben a-la seitan. I'm not the biggest proponent of seitan, not just because of the name (I find it impossible to say with a straight face). I like tofu and tempeh, and am happy with most fake-beefs. The seitan nugg's I've had in the past are just...squidgy. It's a textural issue. An issue which was cleverly avoided here. Large pieces of seitan were sliced deli style into medium-thick strips. It's a tall order to recreate the fatty and marbled texture of good deli, but this was an effort. The result was perhaps more like pepperoni, the 'meat' having fine pores and sweating with light oil. It was piled up, the taste not as briny and sweet as the real deal, but not unsatisfying. I was actually quite in love with the sauerkraut which is what made this actually taste like a Reuben! There was a generous amount under the straining rye. As a side I went for those garlicky collards again. Try them! You'll love them.
All this classic omni dish impersonation raised an interesting conversation about the nature of vegan restaurants. Bentley's observation was that so much of the menu was an attempt to reproduce familiar meat and dairy meals- Reuben, pulled 'pork', unchicken and waffles- and that with vegan restaurants in general the food doesn't embrace its own vegan-ness enough, or try to create something unapologetically vegan. I see things differently. Most of the veg places I've dined at fit the narrow view of health-food lettuce leafy fare. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think there could be much more interesting things done at veg/vegan restaurants. I don't necessarily mean veg/vegan foods which seek to imitate an omni equivalent. I mean dishes which don't just try to fill the niche, but try to compete with fine dining restaurants and offer a really unique food experience. I feel that maybe more than any other place, the food at The Hogtown Vegan is on to something (it's just too bad about the horrible interior decorating!).

What do you think?
Hogtown Vegan on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 18, 2011

one part sketch: all the world's a dinner party

friends, you're in for a surprise, and a treat! Once a month from now on there will be an extra feature on Drawn and Devoured called "one part sketch", a collaboration between writer yasmin (le sauce) and I. Consider it a slice of life column- when your life revolves around food!

click for larger image

"Ok, wait, I think we should talk about this over a plate of food. Or several. Are you into tapas? We will totally talk about your promotion, because I want to know about it. It's so exciting! We should get champagne--does this call for champagne? Or we could have a glass of champagne at my place first, buy a nicer bottle and still save money vs. what we would have spent at a restaurant and then we can go to a nicer restaurant! Because we should celebrate, "Ok, wait, I think we should talk about this over a plate of food. Or several. Are you into tapas? We will totally talk about your promotion, because I want to know about it. It's so exciting! We should get champagne--does this call for champagne? Or we could have a glass of champagne at my place first, buy a nicer bottle and still save money vs. what we would have spent at a restaurant and then we can go to a nicer restaurant! Because we should celebrate, you, your promotion. At that place I've been dying to go to. You'll love it."
"I'm gonna let you go so I can call them, but it's better, we can talk about your breakup there. It's too depressing to talk about that over coffee. We'll need a drink. And this phone stuff is no good, you shouldn't be alone. Some really good food will cheer you up--my treat. No, you won't. You'll be less likely to cry in public."

click for larger image

"Yeaaaah...that concert sounds good...I mean, I like them. Is it going to be crowded though? I mean probably, right? Maybe we should eat first and skip the opening band. Like somewhere close by. We won't be late, they always start late. But if we're too full to dance after, we can always just stay and like, do a cheese course and dessert at the restaurant and make it, like a night, cuz if we're too full... I mean, just if. No, no that won't happen, we're totally going to the concert after dinner. Totally."

"...Oh I don't care, it's just another birthday. I'm just going to stay in. Like maybe I'll make dinner. Do you want to come over? Maybe just you two and yeah, well those guys of course. Oh yeah, well ok, the eight of us. Oh are they back? Yeah, it would be good to hear about Thailand. For sure. So we should go out then, cuz I don't want to cook for a million people on my birthday. Are you gonna call, or do you want me to call? Oh that's so nice, thanks. I'll send you a list, in order. Can you call tonight? Cuz it's in two weeks and you know, we want a good table. Thanks!"

one part sketch is about the little fiascos around big city eating. essays by yasmin seneviratne, illustrations by katherine verhoeven.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pizza E Pazzi

There are days and restaurants that remind me that one of the reasons I began working on Drawn and Devoured was to further my education about food, especially food in Toronto which is such a mishmash of international styles. Neapolitan pizza isn't new here, I guess, with staples like Pizzeria Libretto having been around ages (I'm excited for the one opening near my home on Danforth!). I've yet to make it over, and my university days were spent mostly with the garlic rich, E.V.O.O. drenched slices by Massimo's. They're NOT Neapolitan! I think they New York style, but comparing the two is apples to oranges. My closest run in with a Neapolitan style pizza was a pizza pocket from The 416 Snack Bar. I will tell you, it is NOTHING like what I experienced later!
Recently a little place opened up in Corso Italia -that other little Italy that feels less like a club district than College West- called Pizza e Pazzi (1182 St. Clair Ave W). It boasts a wood burning oven and a traditional recipe that only need four ingredients (not counting love). I have wondered just what could make one pizza so different from the next, and this is where I learned that a pizza doesn't need to be folded in half and dripping with cheese, but can be torn, shared, and appreciated as more of a craft bread.
Pizza e Pazzi is incredibly new and wet behind the ears. It has all the bright eyed eagerness of its freshness showing in the big flustered grins of the service, and the stern, concentrating frowns of the pizza makers. Everything is dark and gleaming, classy. The tables are small and intimate, and word of mouth has served this place well. Is it odd that I'm surprised by their lack of public twitter? There was a time when social media didn't factor into a restaurants launch! Yet the tables are packed, and even though my chronically half-hour-early self was there long before my friends to make a reservation, it was a 15 minute wait before we were seated. Make a reservation if you want dinner at a certain time. Walking into this place along is worth the wait, your mouth will start watering from the scent of floury dough and olive oil, the air redolent with basil. It smells amazing. It smells like dinner.
 We aren't seated long before we're offered beer, wine, and complimentary olives, mushroom tapenade and fresh red fife and pita. I'm surprised in the best way- so few places I've been to offer something for the table to snack on while orders are prepping and drinks are being poured, let alone something as delightful as this. The mushroom tapenade is marinaded and moist, not soggy. It's briny, it's juice doing well to moisten the spongy white bread and pita. The olives are firm, green, and drizzled with olive oil. I love the bread which is incredibly fresh, and polish off half the basket to myself, dipping the bread chunks  generously in olive oil.

Mains are ordered, as is a pizza to share. Despite my conviction that I would get a pizza to myself, the pasta selection is incredibly tantalizing, and all three of us opt for different kinds of semolina entrees.

To keep things simple in the anticipation of heavy mains, and out of consideration for the vegetarianism of one guest, the simplest pizza is ordered- a classic Margherita ($13). In the traditional style, this pizza is only tomato sauce and mozzarella. Such simplicity requires the very best ingredients, which are readily supplied. The pizza arrives steaming, blisters on the soft and dusty crust. It's great. My first Neapolitan pizza! The dough is really the most important thing here, I realize, cutting through it with a knife and a bit of difficulty. Incredibly naan-like in thickness and doughiness, I felt like this recipe could have been passed down from nonna to nonna for centuries (it probably has been). Sensitivity and though has gone into selecting the fixings of the pizza. The buffalo mozzarella is melted and sultry, just adding enough sharp kick to work with the pool of fresh tomato sauce held in the thick dike of crust. It doesn't taste like PIZZA SAUCE, just like gorgeous vine ripe tomatoes, fresh and pureed with nothing to complicate them.

In a move mimicking her hair style, Amanda ordered manicotti. I don't think it was a deliberate choice, but the two big round rolls did look a bit like the big curl on one side of her head. In retrospect, I can see how drawing dinner like this might make Pizza e Pazzi a little less appealing to future patrons...we found no hair in our food! Not even our own. So forgive my drawings, sometimes I forget that putting one and one together occasionally equals eww.
Understated and simple, the manicotti was pleasant and satisfying without doing anything unpredictable, or being bold enough to really shock the taste buds. Soft spinach and ricotta stuffed pasta was ladled with that same fresh, sunny tomato sauce. It tastes sweet since there isn't too much salt, and everything is brought together simply with little added frills. The thick pasta makes it a pleasantly heavy dish, and it's alright that there's no side of salad to go along with it. The fresh basil leaf added a nice kick, and there was a taste of mushroom throughout.
Let's swing over to another extreme- the amazing experience Laura ordered. If the manicotti was a bit plain, Pizza e Pazzi went out of their way to make this spaghetti alla puttenesca ($14) incredibly bold. They combined the saltiest, briniest ingredients- puckered black olives shrunken with ripeness, juice laden capers (I've never been a fan), and stringy bits of tuna and zippy anchovy. The tomato sauce was lumpy with fish, just like mariners take on a bolognaise. It was INCREDIBLY fishy! I wonder if they needed two kinds of fish? Everything was salty but the tomato sauce was still fresh, so in the end it wasn't an overpowering experience- just bold and flavourful. And huge! What a generous portion of spaghetti!
 I also ordered a pasta dish to myself, choosing the appealing sounding ear-shaped pasta, oreciette alle cime di rape ($14). When it arrived, I kept thinking of ninja turtles- it reminds me a lot of more of turtle shell than of ears! Dude. This was another dish with anchovy, a fish I'm happy to see get so much love on a menu (it's one of those oft-sustainable fishies). Like the manicotti before it, the orechiette may have suffered from a lack of boldness! It was buttery with olive oil, and bitter from the rapini, two flavours which did make for a fun back and forth over my palate. I wish there had been more to it than those crisp first notes. Even the spice from the anchovies and a few chili flakes left quickly. Perhaps it isn't bad to have a light and fresh pasta in the summer, but I should know that when I order pasta, I want something that leaves me feeling heavy. I enjoyed the smoky finish with my beer, and it was over all too quickly. Next time, I'll order something with cheese!
Pizza e Pazzi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Combine Eatery

A combination of all things good
Other than it's annual festival of food excess, restaurants on the Danforth don't get a lot of love. Even though I regularly bike between Broadview and Pape, when it comes to dinner I'm more likely to be found on the west end. It's such a shame, because there's much more than souvlaki and baklava along the Greektown strip. Most recently added to this street of good food is the not-quite-Mexican not-quite-American resto The Combine Eatery, which is about a month old now. I bet this is the only place in Toronto where you can get a meatloaf and tacos!
Biking past the brown paper pasted glass every day, I really developed a sense of anticipation for the grand opening of The Combine. I could never see what was happening behind those obfuscated windows, but everything I heard was tense with expectation. One day the paper was down and the door was open, and I knew my waiting was over!
I am not as interested in having a dining place look like a million bucks so long as it's comfortable and easy to navigate (and clean). I think The Combine is a little crowded (at the end of the night when leaving our table, I practically had to duck under to leave from the bench side). All of their benches are old church pews, which aren't easy to lounge in. The rest is lovely. There's a mix of 20's speakeasy style (oxblood coloured embossed tin wall, art-deco white lamps), as well as a reno'd barn-yard feel, a style I've noticed in a lot of new restaurants. It's decorated with old things, wood beams, made to look new again. There's a shelf with electric green bonsai- it's a combination of influences as varied as the food.
Can you imagine it was once considered cruel and unusual to eat this crusty crustacean?
To start I jump on the lobster fritters (15.95) and it's no challenge to get my seafood-loving friends to split them with me. There's six to a plate, and they're a nice plump size. Basically the fritters are hush-puppies, carefully created deep fried dough balls. They're crisp all the way through, only a bit spongy at the middle and taste like corn and white wine. The lobster is not very strong, just adding a taste of fresh fish to the golden-fried, spiky dough. They came with a firm sour cream, and chipotle aioli, which tasted strongly of paprika. The smoke went well with the corn and hint of sweet pepper in the fritters.

The art of the burger
One thing that will guarantee that the Combine has a successful career is the variety their menu boasts. Though getting known for succulent tacos, there are also burritos, mainstream entrees, not-dull salads, and burgers to choose from. With a small admonishment to himself for not being adventurous (to which we protested), Pietro gets a cheeseburger (15.95). American classic! While it might not seem like the boldest thing on the menu, a good burger is not something that happens by accident. We quickly learn that The Combine cherishes their meat. It's a delightful combination of sweet and succulent beef, rich with oils and clean flavours. It's a proud slab of ground meat on a flour-dusted ciabatta bun, and winds up with a nuanced flavour. The side of fries are thin and crispy, translucent from the fryer. They're very salty!

She said, 'Let them eat meat!'
From the entrees, I eyeball a rather intimidating order of meatloaf. It's not something I was raised on, meatloaf doesn't occupy some warm and cuddly bunker of tradition in my heart. A big hunk of meat normally wouldn't catch my eye. When you take sweet juicy pork, mix is with bold rich beef, add the creamy texture of veal and wrap it in double smoked bacon, it's no longer just a hunk of meat. This was a masterpiece. It arrived capping a small heap of garlicky mashed potato, like a hat. Each meatloaf must be baked individually, it clearly hadn't come from a loaf pan. The gravy was mellow with a light bitterness from the scrapings, tied together with the salty richness of soy. The loaf itself was full, the texture fine and smooth, somewhere between ground beef and pate. I think that some bread crumb was used as a filler, but it tasted like fresh, rustic red fife. All those meats made a cacophony of flavors, along with gravy and a hint of onion. It must have been slow cooked for hours.

Despite how she's holding this item, there was no visual pun intended
Someone HAD to order the tacos, which we saw passing by on long plates to other tables, their soft shells laden with fish or chicken or pork. Molly ordered the so-cal style grilled fish tacos (15.95). An order comes with three. the soft tacos have a skin made of corn flour, chewy and toothsome. The fish itself was piled in little lumps under diced tomato and macerated iceberg. The mayo also tasted of corn, and I thought there was a hint of coconut in it. Surprisingly tropical tasting tacos! The guacamole was sweet, but bold and firm as well, not nearly as garlicky as I've had elsewhere.

A doughnut by any other name is much more sweet
Dessert was debated for a while. We were all pretty satisfied from the food we'd had. It was the display of blueberry beignets (7.95) steadily marched to each other table at the end of their meals that convinced us to eat once more. A big disk of chewy fried dough sat on a throne of blueberries. The crown was a ball of soft vanilla ice cream rolled in crushed pecan. The beignet was very tough- it wasn't easy to split, and we didn't have any knives! Chewy as jerky, the flavour was wonderful, like a more confident doughnut with fresh berries, but it was a challenge to get through. The ice cream melted over the hot dough quickly, and the shallow square dish meant we had to abandon the creamy juice after the first couple bites. The mix of salty and sweet, chewy and soft made for a fun dessert, but maybe more of a challenge to eat than I would want to handle regularly.

By this time the cathedral-like proportions of the Combine had started to work against its patrons, and we could hardly hear one another across the crowded table. It's popularity is burgeoning! We quickly escaped the over-air conditioned hall for the warm night air, and a walk home that would help us digest all the loveliness we ate.
Combine Eatery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thunderbird Studio

I know this is unrelated to food, and restaurants, and all that is yummy. However, I am a part of this project, and would love to see our dream of building a silk screen studio come true. It would mean I can start making beautiful prints! Probably of thousands of sushi hand rolls, my favourite thing to draw ever...

Thunderbird, our screen printing studio, is now raising money to finish our beautiful exposure unit, and a few other odds and ends we need to really have it done. We have an indie-go-go campaign to raise money for our opening show. The Indie Go Go account has a bunch of it's own share links, but you can also "attend the event" on facebook and share it that way, to help out!

It doesn't state it in the perks section because we assume most contributors are going to be art enthusiasts rather than artists, but if you donate anything reasonable and you're an artist in Toronto we'd be happy to arrange for you to participate in the studio, and have access to our glorious facilities.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


If asked about the best croissant in Toronto, you're going to get a lot of replies. Every pastry chef I've worked with will always claim that their croissant is the best, the most authentic. I've heard that boasted about of the gargantuan sugar monstrosities from the last (ever!) café I worked at, as well as the crisp, intricately folded butter viennoiseries from the AGO. Everyone has an opinion, but I hear most people say that Nadège is the place to go this side of the pond. Don't be surprised. The pastry chef behind, and carrying the name of the café was born in France, and her work has earned her creations the highest awards. All this, located in a beautiful and brightly lit little shop at the southeast corner of Trinity Bellwoods park, perfect for taking treats to a picnic.

It's Saturday, and this is breakfast. My idea was 'to hell with a savoury meal', and what better way to have an indulgent breakfast without losing all my teeth to cavities than with these pastries that are crafted with greater sensitivity to flavour than the average sweet. My sister and I ordered a tart each. For the longest time I haven't been a fan of lemon meringue pie. It's sticky, the lemon is as strong as dish detergent, the meringue is usually false tasting. I've been eating cheap lemon meringue pie, and it has left an unshakable aftertaste- until Nadège. It wasn't me who ordered this either, for lo! my prejudice could not be shaken. And then I tried some. This is not a gelatin stuffed pie, rather it is laden with a lemony custard, which was creamy and sweet. The meringue was a breath of whipped air, the foam from a childhood bubble bath. For all its volume, it was barely there. 
To entertain a recent and unfortunately unseasonal obsession of mine, I selected a tart which was elegantly draped in dark pink grapefruit fillets. So juicy there was no avoiding a constant chin dribble, the fresh fruit did a lot to overpower the earl grey infused in the pasty filling underneath. It was more solid than the custard, a filling with the texture of marzipan. The crust of the pies were hard in a solid way, staunchly supporting the weights piles in their shells. They refused sogginess outright. I found my tart wonderfully refreshing for a hot summers morning, but was wanting more of that earl grey taste. The home-candied orange peel made a nice sharp splash.

Even though it was my vow not to order anything bordering on lunchlike or savoury, I couldn't dissuade my party from seeking more substantial sustenance (keep reading, I myself fell into this trap later). Nadège offers an array of freshly prepared sandwiches on French boule to choose from, the selection seasonal and rotating. Here we have a sandwich with turkey, cranberry sauce, Gruyere and tomato, and one with salami, arugula, brie and tomato. I only had a couple nibbles of each. What was most amazing were these hugely circular buns, their chewy and dark crust, their fluffy white bodies that defied gravity mockingly. The meat was piled high in them both, and the cheeses were not shy, melting and offering up their flavors to complement. I am so happy these weren't ruined with a panini press, too. I love the body of an unsquashed sandwich, it is so much more filling. Give me bread, or leave me, life!

A real French cafe is nothing without an arsenal of these sugar puff bullets. Much more quiet than the cupcake and whoopie pie revolutions is the macaron coup. These kisses land on your lips like delicate butterflies, their sugar shells only putting up a sweet resistance to breaking, crackling over a gummy recess, which bears down on clever ganache. I say clever because these flavours are more ambitious than others I've seen. Our selection today was very vanilla in the literal and figurative, but with flavours ranging from rose to cassis to savoury plays, the colourful display of the macarons at Nadège leaves nothing to the imagination. She's thought of it all. From our selection the chocolate orange won for the dollop of pasted orange rind waiting in ambush at the core of the mild, bitter-sweet cocoa ganache.
they look like a row of fez! More cake than caramel, these thimble-sized buttons went well with my coffee. They were very glutinous with tacky, dense shells. The flavour was aiming for the salty sweetness most caramel treats want, but I personally like less subtlety than these offered, for once. Maybe I have a salt tooth across the ridge from my sweet tooth. The taste was like a creme brulé, with the texture of an English bread pudding. A bite and a half each.

A spin on the classic almond spongecake, these madeleines are laced with cocoa. Just what the sweets junkie in me craves with coffee! Unlike everything else we ordered, these came from the boutique part of the shop, where pre-packed treats ask to go home with you. There they sat taunting me, winking and half-hidden in a shiny plastic cylinder, not waiting long to be taken in hand. The americano I ordered along with them was watery, not strong and much too small, unfortunately. These little cakes were very nice! I don't think they were fresh from that day, they weren't as moist as other madeleines I've tried. These were puffy and proud, the chocolate delicate. Their more dry texture and depth was ideal for nibbling at between sips. Still, I think I prefer fresh- what was I thinking ordering these with a display case of still-warm croissants to taunt me?

And here is the breadwinner of Nadège's family of cakes, candies and delights. There were many varieties of croissant to try. The seasonal apricot croissant made a big splash at our table, and really blew me away. Nadège makes croissants like small dreams. Forget what you've experienced before, butter-drenched and heavy. These croissants are French bread, and they lift you up. The glaze was modest and stood back to let the fruit and its vehicle dance on the taste buds. The apricot was so strong and summery, almost cloying in its intensity. The pastry flaked away and took in the egg wash and natural sugars to become this sweet treat. The best thing we had, I think.

To end on another savoury note and with a beloved croissant, the breakfast sandwich. It was so good that after a bite from someone else, I got up and ordered my own! Even after the tart, the madeleines, the caramels, the macarons...oh my. This butter croissant layered as lightly as a philo pastry, the thin sheaves staying together despite by vigorous bites. The crust was so airy and delicate that the sandwich was hardly there. Were these friendly eggs, this papery bacon holding themselves together with the help of gluey cheese? The bacon was crisp without being well done, able to hold that texture by virtue of its slimness. The tomato hiding under it all was fresh and firm. I think I would have liked it a little more if it weren't heated to order, but I confess, I'm besotted.

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